Finding weird and wonderful album covers

Since I just repaired our turntable I’ve been going to record stores to expand our collection. So far Princeton Record Exchange (PRX) in Princeton, NJ and Generation Records here in New York have been my favorites. PRX is well worth the trip if you’re starting a collection because they have so many classics for under $10 and Generation has a great budget jazz section and some unique stuff on the walls.

In some cases, I’ve taken a chance and bought great music and at other times just took photos of odd and interesting covers that I didn’t buy. Here are some photos from the last few weeks:

Biking in New York is better since CitiBike

For the last few years, Paola and I have been proud annual members of CitiBike, New York’s bike share program. It’s completely transformed the way we get around the city. It’s the quickest way to get crosstown, period, and it’s less per month than the cost of a single tax ($169/year or $14/mo+tax, as of May 2019).

Here’s a bit of history: Way back in 2012-2013, I was in Washington, DC and the local Capital Bikeshare was arguably the most successful bike share program in the US. I was a member and would use it occasionally, mostly for times when I didn’t ride my bike to work but wanted to get somewhere quickly.

New York launched big in, with 6,000 bikes and hundreds of docks in Manhattan and Brooklyn in April 2013. This move instantly made it the largest system in the US (Here’s a bit of history). I was following the news and was a bit skeptical that New York would be able to launch a program as good as the one in DC. In a sense, I was right, at least at first.

When I tried the system later that year, I found broken and unresponsive docks and I checked out a bike that had a loose steering column, i.e. the handlebars were ready to come off. Sure, the system was big, but it seemed to be facing some serious growing pains. This wasn’t the kind of system that I’d trust as an annual subscriber because it just wasn’t reliable.

In October 2014, the month after Paola and I moved to New York from DC, CitiBike came under new ownership and hired Jay Walder, former MTA executive, as its CEO. The company turned a corner almost immediately. The backlog of broken bikes and docks was slowly being addressed (incidentally, this is called asset management, and it’s what the MTA has been dealing with as well).

We gave CitiBike another try the following year and were kicking ourselves that we didn’t try it earlier. It turned 20-minute walks into 10-minute bike rides and it turned getting to work crosstown from a slog on crowded sidewalks into a breeze, comparatively, on crowded roads. Even better, it took bike riding from a leisure activity that required carrying bikes up and down three flights of stairs to just another thing, like coffee and a muffin, you can pick up on the street on your way to work.

As any urbanist will tell you, we dedicate too much space to moving cars instead of moving people efficiently. We now use a sliver of that underutilized road space, effectively the half-lane between the parked cars and the standstill traffic. Protected north-south bike lanes have been slowly introduced on 1st/2nd, 5th/6th, B’way, and 7th/8th/9th Avenues. As part of the L train shutdown along 14th Street, the city DOT has put in protected east-west lanes on 12th and 13th Streets.

All of which is to say, biking in New York is not bad, it can be a pleasant experience, and it’s getting better year over year. Especially for short trips in good weather, it’s both quick and cheap, much better than watching a taxi meter run while stuck in traffic.

Thanks to everyone at NYC DOT and CitiBike for keeping things running! I suppose the best way to show thanks for everything is to use it, so I’ll see you all out there.

Transcending time in a New York cab

It’s 4:20 in the morning and I can see the stars. This is a bit glamorous, I think as I flag down a taxi on a nearly deserted Third Avenue below our apartment.

I have had plenty of early morning flights, but this will be my first pre-dawn departure since moving to Manhattan over three years ago. I imagine the Chrysler Building winking down on me from further uptown, sprinkling me with moonlight New Yorkiness for being hip enough to be up at this hour.

The night before, I imagined in my mind’s eye recapturing a few minutes of lost sleep as the taxi took me to the airport at the speed of Robert Moses’s dreams, 1960s-era highway speed. That was a dream.

Back in reality, something is wrong: we are headed downtown. LaGuardia Airport is uptown or over, being that it’s in Queens. We are heading south, though the driver seems totally certain of it.

After second-guessing myself several times, I finally ask, “Why are we headed downtown?” The driver responds, “This is super secret shortcut, we take the Williamsburg Bridge. This saves twenty minutes.” Trusty Google Maps said the entire trip would be 23 minutes.

My thoughts are the only other vehicles on the road. Indignation: This guy has no idea where he’s going. Doubt: Don’t second-guess a cab driver. He’s a professional. Self-doubt: Am I too nice? Is this how Canadians feel? Resignation: I’m stuck here, just relax. You planned for spare time.

At this point we have crossed the East Village, turned left onto Houston Street and are now ascending the Williamsburg Bridge. The driver assures me this is a shortcut once again as he accelerates. As if to prove himself right, he keeps his foot on the gas well past the 45-mph speed limit: 50, 55, 60, 65, 70, 72.

Our presence expands to two bridge lanes as we challenge the laws of thermodynamics. New York drivers “take the lane”. This is normal, right?

Wrong. Suddenly, honking as we’re passed in our right-hand lane. My brain turns on and activates its next emotion: Fear.

We are a pinball sent ricocheting up the expressway. The concrete retaining walls guide our path. I hope he’s better at pinball than I am.

I am sure the driver will activate the Flux Capacitor and my wristwatch will start running in reverse.

Moments later I check my phone: He’s done it, he has transcended time. The last hour has actually only been 15 minutes.

We continue to exist in two lanes, for stability, I assume, as I gird myself for takeoff. Hours or minutes pass. Not soon enough we angle off towards the airport and promptly pull up at the wrong gate.

Screech.

Wait, this guy doesn’t know directions? He knows the super secret shortcut. He has the flux capacitor. Reality begins to creep in, though it’s still black as night outside the window.

We make the rounds of the entire airport to circle back around to the proper gate at a reasonable pace. It’s 4:50am. The light of day has still not shown on any of this adventure.

Quick escapes from New York City by bus

There’s nothing quite like stepping off the bus onto the street of a new city on a Friday night to face its new sights, sounds, and smells.

We like to get out of New York for the weekend from time to time, and the cheaper and quicker we can do it, the more time and money we have left to spend on food, sights, and the next weekend getaway. That’s why we often travel by bus. The bus has had a renaissance as of late, with cheaper tickets and more competition leading to a virtuous cycle of more and better service.

I have to say, I like the train, when it’s convenient and we can afford it, though the bus station is often similarly located and less expensive, with a wider variety of destinations.

Considerations

In order to maximize our vacation time, our primary considerations for any mode are:

  • Trip time. We like to take trips that can be completed in a few hours, so that we can depart after work and arrive with some time to enjoy the evening.
  • Stops. If we can find a nonstop, that’s the best, though sometimes having an extra stop can work in your favor, e.g. on our way up to Syracuse, the 3:45pm bus always stops at Syracuse University, which saves time getting to our final destination.
  • Connections. We avoid connections if at all possible, since it’s one more thing to coordinate that could go wrong.
  • Local transit. The best destinations are either walkable or connected to public transit when you arrive. Luckily, we live in the Northeast, where the larger cities have both. If we have to rent a car upon arrival, we don’t travel by bus, we leave by car.
  • Cost. Generally, we like to pay $20-30 each way, per person. Any more and it’s something we feel the need to plan out and schedule instead of a spur-of-the-moment decision.
  • Reliability. Good transit has backup when something goes wrong. That’s why we tend to take Greyhound, which has spare drivers and buses, instead of Megabus or the Chinatown bus, which do not.

Destinations

Given these considerations, we always return to a handful of places:

  • Philadelphia (2 hrs, $10-15). Great food and beer, cheap hotels, tons of history, and the closest big city to New York.
  • Washington, DC (4.5 hrs, $15-25). Amazing free museums and monuments, cheap hotels over holiday weekends, good food, beautiful neighborhoods, slightly better weather.
  • Syracuse, NY (5-6 hrs, $35-45). Great food, nature, and good people. My parents and a number of friends live here, though you really need a car or a bicycle, depending on the weather, to enjoy it fully.
  • Boston (4.5-5 hrs, $25). Walkable downtown, tons of Revolutionary War-era history though different than Philadelphia, beautiful university campuses and neighborhoods. Slightly harder to find a hotel, from what I recall.
  • Montreal (8-9 hrs, $60). Feels like you’re in another country because you are, interesting food (poutine), Canada’s curious use of the 20-oz imperial pint when serving beer, tons of arts and culture including weekly festivals during the summer months. No other city I know enjoys their short summer months more than Montreal. This also happens to be the longest direct bus that you can take from New York.

This is just an overview. I’ll be taking on each of these destinations in the future (as well as a return to Montreal).

Good luck planning your next escape from New York. Let me know your favorite destinations in the comments.

 

 

Looking at construction through the “Kyle windows”

Paola calls these “Kyle windows”. I’m always poking my nose in these clear plexiglass diamonds to see what’s going on beyond the green plywood barriers. Construction is fascinating and I think it brings out the little kid in all of us.

My theory is that these windows have been put there for liability reasons so that curious people like myself will know what they’re getting into before they decide to jump over the top of the wall and explore. I could be wrong.

Anyway, here are some photos of a backhoe and other adults enjoying the view of the giant hole in the ground that will soon be One Vanderbilt, adjacent to Grand Central Terminal.